While it could be said of just about any product announcement, Apple seemed to have a clear message earlier this week at WWDC 2012: the coming year is about the next generations of hardware and software.
By generations, I don't simply mean just a slight reiteration from last year. I mean the next year will set the foundations for the next decade of products.
Apple touched on three major areas of their ecosystem — Mac hardware, OS X, and iOS.
We all love new Macs, right? Well, Apple refreshed their entire notebook lineup. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models received some very nice revisions.
The MacBook Air received the latest Intel processors and integrated graphics, faster RAM, a faster solid-state drive, USB 3, and an upgraded FaceTime camera which now captures HD at 720p. It also received a new iteration of MagSafe, Apple's magnetic power port. MagSafe 2 is thinner.
Another nice upgrade is what exactly you can upgrade. You can order an Air with up to 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Basically the computer I'd really like to have if I had to replace mine.
The MacBook Pro as we know it received better processors and graphics, as well as USB 3. And that's about it.
The Next Generation MacBook Pro
Ever since the MacBook Air's big revamp in 2010 — the one where the Air really started to sell like hotcakes — many of us have wondered when we'd either see a 15-inch version of the Air or if the MacBook Pro would begin to take after the Air.
Hint: it's the latter.
Apple imagined what a powerhouse of a notebook computer would look like without all the legacy technology. Hard drive? Gone, replaced by an SSD. Optical drive? Gone. FireWire 800? Usurped by Thunderbolt and USB 3. Ethernet port? Too big, gone. And it sports the new MagSafe 2 port.
What we have ended up with is a 15-inch notebook that is lightning fast and weighs as much as the old-style 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Oh, and it has a retina display.
It's also very expensive — starting at $2200. But it would serve us well to remember the first MacBook Air in 2008 — that was very expensive, too. And its second take was much more affordable.
This new MacBook Pro is the clear vision of what Apple plans to do with all their portables. Thin & light. Super fast. Retina displays.
I envision within a couple years time Apple's notebook lineup will pretty much be the 15-inch MacBook Pro and the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air equipped with retina displays.
This new MacBook Pro is the forerunner for the future of the Mac as we know it.
OS X Mountain Lion
One of the best kept secrets in recent Mac history has been OS X Mountain Lion. I remember waking up and reading tweets about Mountain Lion's existence back in February and being completely surprised.
Mountain Lion is the cat that eluded the rumor mill.
Well, now we know when we'll get our hands on it and how much it will cost. We'll see it in July on the Mac App Store for $20. For comparison, Snow Leopard and Lion each cost $30.
And, if you are one of those who is still on Snow Leopard, you can go directly to Mountain Lion for the same $20.
I can't wait for Mountain Lion. It will bring tighter iCloud integration, separating Notes from Mail and Reminders from iCloud and into their own respective apps. Not to mention finally bringing Documents in the Cloud to the Mac.
iMessage, the fantastic way to not use text messages on iOS devices, is coming in the form of the new Messages app, which replaces iChat.
In iOS 5, Apple revamped Notifications to have fairly unobtrusive banner alerts that roll in for a few seconds, then roll away. And with a simple gesture, you can bring in the Notification Center which stores all of your notifications.
Apple is bring that same concept to the Mac, giving a universal notification interface, and a gesture-activated Notification Center.
Mountain Lion also integrates Twitter and Facebook, which should be quite handy.
Two things that were revealed at WWDC that we didn't know about Mountain Lion before are Power Nap and Dictation.
Power Nap is for Macs that come standard with an solid-state drive. These Macs will be able to update Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, Photo Stream, Find My Mac, and Documents in the Cloud — all while the Mac is closed and/or sleeping. And, if plugged into power, it can check for and download software updates, and back up to Time Machine.
Dictation is something we first saw in the iPhone 4S, accompanying Siri, and in the retina display iPad. I have been using dictation like crazy with my iPad the past couple months, so I am thrilled that it is coming to the Mac. Simply place your cursor where you want text, tap the
fn key twice, and speak away.
There is a lot more coming to Mountain Lion, which you can check out here. And of course I'll go over it in detail once Mountain Lion is released.
Lastly, Apple showed off iOS 6 for the first time, available this fall. It has a significant smattering of refinements, but Apple detailed ten up close.
Siri is getting smarter and coming to the Retina iPad. You'll be able to find out scores and stats for sports, find reviews and showtimes for movies (and even ask for a trailer to be played), make reservations at restaurants, and — my favorite — launch an app by name. Siri can also tweet and post to Facebook.
Speaking of Facebook, that is coming baked into iOS in the same way Twitter did last year. In addition to using Siri to speak updates into the two big social networks, there will be tweet and post buttons in Notification Center. All of this will be great for me, as I often just want to quickly publish a quip without having to spend time loading up an app.
Photo Stream is getting a sharing component, which will hopefully make it easier for me to get pictures of my son to the grandparents in a more timely manner (I have severely neglected Flickr).
We'll also get to use FaceTime over cellular, though I imagine many of us, at least in the USA, will force ourselves to use it on Wi-Fi, since many of us now have limited data plans.
The phone app is getting a nice little feature to decline a phone call and either follow up with a canned message or set a reminder to call the person back. I can definitely think of a handful of situations where this will be very useful.
The iPhone is also getting a new app called Passbook, which will store things such as boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons, and gift cards. A nice touch with Passbook is that can alert you if your flight's gate changes or a coupon is about to expire. It can also put a notification on your lock screen when you go into the coffee shop that your gift card is from or when you arrive at the airport.
Speaking of Notifications, iOS 6 is bringing a feature called Do Not Disturb, something I have desired for some time. And it works exactly how I imagined. Flip the Do Not Disturb switch and notifications will no longer make sounds nor light up the screen. You can even schedule the hours in which you sleep.
In typical Apple fashion, they have paid attention to the details with Do Not Disturb. You can set exemptions for phone calls, such as your Favorites list or another group. Also, if someone calls you twice within three minutes, the call will go through, as it may be an emergency. I am literally ecstatic about this feature.
By far the biggest announcement for iOS 6 is that Apple is ditching Google Maps as the provider for the Maps app. Apple has rolled its own mapping solution, bringing vector-based maps (the tiles won't have to reload as you change the zoom level), turn-by-turn navigation, and a new view called Flyover, which gives a 3D, bird's-eye view of cities. The feature set is impressive and Apple's cartography is stunningly beautiful.
There are a few other things about iOS 6 that I haven't taken the time to cover, so I suggest you go check out the preview page.
Apple has definitely set the bar high for the future of Mac hardware. OS X is becoming more in tune with its sibling iOS, and iOS is taking a few cues from OS X. The new, more annual development schedule of OS X is helping to keep it and iOS in parity.
And iOS 6 is really showing one big theme: Apple is hurting Google where it counts — eyeballs, or rather the lack of them — on Google's ads. Google has sponsored locations in Apple's Maps app. That's going away. Siri is bypassing what many people would use Google Search for and giving results directly from great sources. And Passbook has the potential to put the hurt on Google Wallet. The message is clear — Google was unwise to make an enemy of Apple.
Maps were essential for Apple to bring in-house. Siri and Passbook are chipping away at what is left.
All in all, Apple is leading the way forward to the next generation, where Apple defines the entire experience.